Doing your holiday shopping online? Here’s how to spot fake reviews

How do you know if an online review is real or fake?
ABOVE: Reading online reviews helps many of us make decisions on where to stay on vacation or where to go out for dinner. But how can you tell if a review is real or fake?

Whether you’re buying a holiday gift, a weekend getaway at a hotel or a kitchen tool for Christmas dinner, online reviews have become an important way to sort out your purchases.

And more than 60 per cent of consumers trust online reviews when shopping, according to a Nielsen Global Trust 2015 report.

READ MORE: Calgary business owner acts fast after false online customer review

“There’s no doubt that reviews are important, from gift buying to picking a new restaurant, it’s important during the holidays,” Martin Pyle, assistant professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, said.

“We do it for risk reduction, especially when buying a gift and you’re not familiar with the product.”

Unfortunately, when dealing with reviews there are bound to be fake ones, he said, and sometimes they can be difficult to spot.

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But no need to fret, there are some tips to help decipher the real from the fake.

WATCH: New app takes on fake online reviews

How to spot growing trend of fake online reviews
How to spot growing trend of fake online reviews

Language is key

In 2011, a team of Cornell researchers published a paper about creating a computer algorithm for detecting fake reviewers, which worked 90 per cent of the time.

The team found the fake reviews tended to be a narrative talking about the experience rather than the actual product. For example, when it came to hotels, fake reviewers tended not to talk about the spatial details – such as the floor or bathroom. Instead, they focused on the reason they were there, such as describing a recent fake vacation or business trip.

They also used words like “I” and “me” more frequently, as if to underline their own credibility.

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“Whether it’s a hotel or the feel of the sweater, there should be some indication that they have had physical contact with it,” Pyle said.

Disregard the highest and lowest ratings

Overly enthusiastic or overly negative reviews are red flags. False reviews tend to use more extreme language to get their message across. So if someone says “It is the most comfortable bed ever,” perhaps in all caps, take pause.

The key is to disregard the highest and lowest ratings and see what people in the middle are saying for a more accurate assessment, according to the Competition Bureau.

Check out the reviewer

Check out the profile of the person providing the review.  If the person only writes reviews for a particular company, that’s a warning sign they could have a vested interest in that business.

Also, if the reviewer only recently created a user profile and has been actively providing positive feedback on a number of products over a short period of time, that’s another red flag, the Competition Bureau said.

Some sites only allow posts from people who’ve made a purchase there (for example, by providing a proof of purchase). Look closely at the site for the review policies.

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Compare with other websites

Pyle said you should check multiple websites when looking at product reviews. For example, if you’re hoping to buy something on Amazon and the product review seems too good to be true, head to another website like Canadian Tire to compare, he said.

Be wary of pictures

Product review pictures can be a good way to determine authenticity, but consumers should still be wary, Pyle said.

“Pictures can help but can also be fake. It’s  a blind spot that people should be aware of,” he said.

Companies cracking down

“Certain websites, like Amazon and Yelp, are actively trying to filter out these fake reviews. If people stop trusting reviews on Amazon, Amazon no longer exists,” Pyle said.

READ MORE: Amazon sues fake reviewers, latest salvo against fake-review industry

In 2015, Amazon sued more than 1,000 people for advertising their services writing fake reviews for as little as $5 as it seeks to crack down on bogus reviews on its site.

As these companies continue to try to solve the problem of fake reviews, Pyle recommends consumers always use caution.

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“A healthy dose of skepticism is always a good thing,” he said.

— With files from the Associated Press